Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) received high marks – from both sides of the aisle – for his inaugural address that touched on themes of bipartisanship and history Wednesday afternoon.
As the military band splayed walk-off music on the State House lawn, Baltimore County Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D) gave a glowing review of the governor’s address.
“I thought it was fantastic. One of the best, maybe the best, I’ve ever heard,” Zirkin, the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said, zeroing in on talk about working together across party lines. “People disagree on issues, but what you see in Washington is an embarrassment to the world. …It’s not just a great message for Maryland, it’s a great message for the country to hear. And so I loved it.”
Zirkin said that while he barely knew Hogan when he was first inaugurated four years ago, he’s come to know him very well during the governor’s first term, and believes the talk of bipartisanship was more than just rhetoric.
“He is an ardent believer in working together across the aisle. He is a true bipartisan. What has made him so popular is his passion for working together,” Zirkin said.
Those watching the address on the State House lawn seemed drawn into Hogan’s remarks as he invoked political leaders of the past, including former President George H.W. Bush (whose son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, introduced Hogan to the crowd), the late U.S. Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.), President Truman, and, of course, Hogan’s father, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr.
The elder Hogan served in Congress with the elder Bush and, in 1974 became the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to support all three articles of impeachment against President Nixon.
“Party loyalty and personal affection and precedence of the past must fall, I think, before the arbiter of men’s action — the law itself,” the elder Hogan testified at the time. “No man, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.”
As his son read those words on Wednesday, members of the crowd broke into applause.
On Twitter, Sen. William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City), who, as former chair of the Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee, has sparred with the governor on certain issues over the past four years, praised the passage.
“Make no mistake, that was no mistake,” Ferguson wrote. “I respect that choice immensely.”
At the end of the 18-minute address, Ferguson wrote that the governor’s speech was well done and tapped into a growing mood among Americans, that “dysfunction cannot be a substitute for governance.”
Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist and loyal supporter of the governor thought the address tapped into the core of Hogan’s character.
“For people that really know him closely, it was not just a speech from the heart, but he was once again trying to explain to the fine people of Maryland that elected him what guides him, what motivates him … that he is such a product of his father,” Bereano said. “He was, in essence, trying to say to Marylanders ‘Don’t worry. I have your best interests at heart. My father taught me to always do the right thing and I always will do the right thing.’”
Bereano was joined on the State House lawn by former Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who said Hogan “hit absolutely just the right note.”
Gray said more lawmakers should be focused on working together and recognizing the good qualities of their colleagues across the aisle.
“It’s just too bad that he’s 30 miles up the road from where we get nothing but vitriol. So, I hope he can deliver that message to someone who needs to hear it,” Gray said.
Newly elected Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), whose progressive campaign faced a centrist, independent challenger in the November election, said the governor delivered a “reasonable message.”
“That’s what everybody hopes the next four years will look like,” Elrich said.
The county executive and Hogan sat down together for the first time last week and don’t see eye-to-eye on future plans for the Capital Beltway, but Elrich said he’s received advice from former Montgomery executive Isiah Leggett (D), who has worked with Hogan and was a featured speaker at Wednesday’s inauguration.
The governor “has earned a lot of respect from people,” Elrich said. “Obviously he’s very popular, so he’s done some of this right. He wouldn’t have won if he’d behaved otherwise. If this had been a belligerent Republican governorship, he wouldn’t be back. So I hope that his next four years are like his last four years and we can have conversations about things.”
‘A really powerful message’
Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who once led the national Republican Party, called Hogan’s address “an absolute home run.”
“He laid down some real new and important tracks for the state, talking about how the state will move forward,” said Steele. “Yeah, we can always pick a partisan fight, but is it really worth it in the end when you’re trying to do the people’s business?”
Steele, who lost a bid for U.S. Senate in 2006, said he was thrilled to be at the first re-inauguration of a Republican administration since Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin in 1954.
“I thought it was a really powerful message, particularly given the climate in the country right now,” Steele said. “To have this little light shine on Maryland that says we’re doing it a little bit different, we’ve got a different kind of leadership that’s bipartisan, that’s working through consensus and a genuine effort to do what’s good for the people in the state.”
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said he thought it was a terrific speech, but that it might be too soon in the new term to know how bipartisan things will play out for the next four years.
“It takes two to tango, it takes two to negotiate. We’ll see how this Democratic caucus wants to negotiate and sit down with a Republican governor who’s reaching out,” Ehrlich said. “…As the Democratic Party continues, in some sense, further left, that may become more difficult.”
Newly elected Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who rose to power with support from the party’s progressive wing, responded to Hogan’s inauguration speech with skepticism.
“Last year Governor Hogan often campaigned on a Democratic platform, at times taking credit for Democratic legislation like the education lockbox that he did not craft or support. We hope that in his final term, Hogan lives up both to the spirit and the letter of bipartisanship,” Cummings said in a prepared statement. “It must be more than polite rhetoric. It must be dogged advocacy for policies that expand the quality of life for all Marylanders. It must be a devotion to kitchen table issues like education and health care, that middle-class families depend on.”
She also questioned Hogan’s choice of Bush as a speaker, citing the Florida governor’s support of the Stand Your Ground gun law and anti-abortion groups as well as decision to end affirmative action in state colleges.
On Twitter, Goucher College political science professor Mileah Kromer said that Hogan’s speech “hit all the notes that earned him a second term in Maryland. But it was also appealing to a very specific national audience – the #NeverTrump #Republicans.”
Hogan’s speech focused on national political rhetoric as the governor has moved toward the national stage as a centrist and soon-to-be head of the National Governors Association.
Asked whether Hogan might be testing the waters for a run at higher office, Zirkin balked.
“You’d have to ask him that question,” the senator said. “But if he is, he would be an excellent choice for national office, in my opinion. That brand of politics is what is necessary everywhere. The idea of working together is what we should be doing here, in this capital, in the nation’s capital, across everywhere.”